In the past few years, the world has been bombarded with religious extremists acting out some of the worst parts of their holy books. Sure, most of these actions have been carried out by Muslims (e.g. honor killings, stoning women for adultery, killing people over cartoons, female genital mutation, etc.), but the various sects of Christianity have been far from civilized either. In the name of religion, we have had Christians bombing abortion clinics, oppressing women and homosexuals, opposing stem cell research, and opposing condom use– not only in the U.S., but in places like Africa where the rates of AIDS are increasing at an alarming rate. The Catholic Church has also become known for its widespread child molestation and willingness to protect those responsible for this horrific crime.
After all of this you would think that people would say enough; something must be done. However, this isn’t the case. Many people believe that the solution to our problems lie in extreme tolerance. That is, if we just become more accepting of other people’s beliefs, then these problems will go away. In fact, just last year Ireland passed anti-blasphemy laws that set out to fine anyone who “publishes or utters blasphemous material.” This anti-blasphemy idea has also been gaining ground in the United Nations as well. But what will the consequences of such laws be? Sure, they threaten our freedom of expression, but do they make us safer? After all, we’re all familiar with the Islamic response to the Danish newspaper publishing cartoons of Mohammad, South Park’s attempts to show Mohammad, that crazy church in Florida that wanted to burn Korans, and Theo van Gogh’s film Submission that criticized Islam’s treatment of women. Each of these cases resulted in riots and killings, or at least the threat of killing.
Should we censor ourselves to avoid these types of retaliation? I say absolutely not. Clearly, any belief system that has the potential to do so much harm should be open to criticism. We cannot sacrifice our rights or let these extremists dictate the limits of our free speech. To do so would be to halt societal progress as we know it. To quote Salman Rushdie, “The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”
The Atheist & Agnostic Society decided this year to celebrate Blasphemy Rights Day 2010 by writing blasphemy in sidewalk chalk around campus. I hope this article explains our purpose for doing so, and I hope everyone understands that we did not do this out of hatred for religion or those who are religious; we did it as a show of support for each individual’s freedom of expression. We invite everyone to come out and share your ideas, support, or criticisms with us in the Free Speech Zone by Parks Library today.
Vice President, Atheist & Agnostic Society